Road to recovery

Alpena native shares journey to sobriety

Alpena native Derek Chowen isn’t proud of his past, but he also no longer tries to deny it.

A 1990 graduate of Alpena High School, he started drinking with his buddies at age 16.

“It was kind of the culture back then. That’s what we did,” said Chowen, now a recovered alcoholic with an inspirational book born out of his experiences. “Even then you could notice that I drank more than everybody else. More aggressively.”

College, marriage and a successful business followed his high school graduation. So too, did more drinking.

“It was high stress but high reward. I got married, started a family. What better time to start drinking heavier,” said Chowen with self-deprecating humor. “I used the booze as an escape.”

His marriage didn’t survive his drinking, and after so many years of alcohol dependency and trying to hide his symptoms from those around him, Chowen reached his rock bottom point. That’s when in order to mask the symptoms of his alcoholism, he told a close circle of friends and family he had a brain tumor.

They believed the lie, at least at first.

“That was the beginning of the end,” he said. “I told people I had a brain tumor. My friend is the one who called me out. He said he was watching me and my symptoms. He’d researched all the stuff, and said I wasn’t acting like someone going through the treatments.”

Once the truth came out, Chowen faced anger and vindictiveness from those he’d hurt the most. He ultimately decided to seek help through Alcoholics Anonymous and thus began his journey toward recovery. He credits AA with giving him what he needed to make positive lifestyle changes.

Putting down the booze, however, proved easier than keeping his head straight.

“Through AA I got the help. It was huge,” he said. “There were physical withdrawals that lasted a week or so but the hard part was my head. There were a lot of really ugly things going on while I was starting my whole sobriety thing, and had I not had AA as an option, I would have made some bad choices. Listening to the success stories of the old timers and having them be able to keep me focused on drying out and getting sober was key. The cool part is, everything they said would happen, has so far. In a really great way.”

As part of the recovery process, Chowen started writing a Facebook blog about his journey, his struggles and his successes. He received more than a thousand responses to the blog and ultimately opted to turn his writings into a recently self-published book, “The Thawing Man: Snapshots of Living Life in Early Recovery.”

It’s his hope, he said, that others battling alcoholism or dependency issues will find his words helpful. Already, he’s seen that happen as many have reached out to him in response to the honesty about his blemished past.

“One of my goals is to try and make it available to people that are in dire straits just like I was. Sometimes even the smallest generosity in the beginning stages was so huge to me. I’m trying to give back as much as I can,” he said.

Initially, he published only 100 copies of “The Thawing Man.” He is now at over 600 copies sold.

Chowen, who currently resides in Charlevoix and works as the controller for a custom home builder, will be in Alpena on Saturday from 1-3 p.m. at Turn the Page Bookstore in the Thunder Bay Shopping Center. He’s excited to share his story in the town where he grew up.

“I’m super excited that Turn the Page Bookstore in Alpena took a chance on me without hesitation, and we have had a great relationship ever since,” he said. “It’s very exciting for me to be able to ‘come home’ for a book signing and discussion. I’m super thankful for the opportunity, without question.”

In between his job and his life outside of work, he’s currently working on a second book that he hopes to complete by Christmas. Tentatively called “How Drinking Saved My Life,” it’s not been easy to write, he said, because it includes more hard details about the negative impact of his drinking. He also has plans for two additional volumes.

For those unable to attend Saturday’s event at Turn the Page, “The Thawing Man” is available in bookstores from Traverse City to Alpena and on multiple online bookstores, including at derekchowen.com.

“I want to help the addict,” Chowen said. “The mission of this book is letting people know there is a way out. You are not alone. You can win. You can beat this thing.”